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Tasks of the Left

It is one of the more ridiculous claims of the Blairites that they represent a continuity with a long tradition within the Labour Party. Indeed Patrick Diamond wrote a silly book called New Labour’s Old Roots that sought to co-opt figures as diverse as Tawney, Durbin and Crosland as pre-cursors of Tony Blair.

In fact, the Labour Party has frequently needed to revise and reconfigure its political compass in response to changing events, that has confounded the divisions between left and right.

After the economic crash of 1929 the party had a long debate that led to the adoption of Keynesianism, and the rejection of the Party’s previous economic policy based upon the ideas of John Hobson.

The success of the 1945 government was its effective implementation of Labour’s prorgramme, and there was a resulting debate on what to do next; where neither the Gaitskellite revisionists nor the Bevanite traditionalists are easily identified by the tags of right and left in the context of the modern party.

The first Wilson government found that the Keynesian levers they sought to apply were relatively ineffective in a changed world where multi-national companies were beginning to be dominant. The left responded by a thorough reworking of the Party’s assumptions, leading to the economic programme adopted in 1973, and a summit with the TUC that agreed a number of reforms with the unions, such as what became the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The historical success of the Party has been based upon its willingness to reassess its mission based upon changed circumstances.

The current danger  is that the Blairite party-within-a-party ‘Progress’ is seeking to prevent any radical debate about how Labour needs to respond to the changed world: they just want to party like it’s 1997.

The left currently lack any organisation vehicle for pursuing such a debate, but we are aligned with the aspirations of the major unions. That is a huge strength. Ed Miliband’s leadership also provides a real opportunity for the left to again find its feet within the party.

The tasks should be clear: firstly, we need to develop an electorally credible but radical programme for a Labour government, that can build a sufficiently broad coalition of support to convincingly win a general election. The left must associate itself totally with the project of winning back power as soon as possible.

To do that we need to consider the changed world we live in; where neo-liberal economics are discredited, where the locus of economic power is moving from the USA to China; and where the states that have best weathered the current economic crisis are arguably those who have sustained economic some sovereignty and retained a state owned footprint in the real economy.

This is challenging because continued participation in the EU is likely to remain both necessary and desirable, so constructive engagement with the EU is also likely to require a pan-European campaign against the neo-liberal assumptions now embedded into the EU.

The left now needs to be as bold as Ernest Bevin was in proposing Keynesianism to the Party, and as bold as Tony Crosland was with his publication of The Future of Socialism in 1956. Perhaps our aim should be, like Stuart Holland’s 1974 book The Socialist Challenge, to set the framework for how a government committed to egalitarianism and social justice could use the available levers of parliamentary power to harness our economy to benefit and empower the majority of working people.

The Labour Party needs to dream of being truly Labour again.


  1. Chris says:

    We need to go back to 1979. Every little thing that’s happened to Britain since then has been an unmitigated disaster.

  2. John says:

    “we need to consider the changed world we live in; where neo-liberal economics are discredited”
    Sadly, I only think neo-liberal economics has been discredited amongst the left, not the general population.

    It is important to ensure that ‘the market’ is shown to be working against the interests of the majority. Until neo-liberalism is discredited in the general consensus, there. Is little hope.

  3. David Ellis says:

    I think New Labour have a point. When has the labour party not been dominated by a tiny, independently funded, right wing, pro-imperialist clique. From the original Fabians to the now civil warring New Labourites there is nothing original and of course it is the left, far greater in number if not resources, that have allowed the right wing to reign supreme in Labour since its inception. The Labour Left would shit itself it it ever had a sniff at power and would very quickly hand that power back to the right. Sometimes they’ll grab a few reforms in the process such as the NHS but now that it is clear that it would require serious mobilisation to defend the NHS the left doesn’t want to know and have surrendered it without a shot being fired. The Jewel in the reformists’ crown has been privatised and they did nothing.

    P.S. Keynesianism is not socialism or remotely `left’. It is cynical in the extreme (when told that his system of circulating profits to make more profits couldn’t work in the long run like some Ponzi scheme, he replied: we are all dead in the long run. So basically fuck social, economic and environmental sustainability and the future generations all that matters is saving the system right here right now.

  4. David Ellis says:

    Labourism itself has its roots in imperialism. The idea that capitalism can be reformed to the benefit of the working man or woman is synonymous with the super profits of empire. Those are gone. Labour will go with them when consciousness catches up with the new material reality and the working people will then be left having to achieve what it was always going to have to achieve: (its historical mission) the overturn of capitalism and its state.

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